5 Things Physicians Should Never Do On Social Media

Medical practices will inevitably jump on the social media bandwagon, seeing the continuous growth of patient activities online. As much as medical practices would like to be on social media, they have to be mindful of healthcare contexts (Patient Health Information - PHI data) and risks associated with it.

Why Medical Practices Use Social Media?

The main reason physicians and medical practices use social media is to market and advertise their services to existing and potential patients. They use it to gain an edge on their local competition. Most are attempting to acquire new patients rather than serving existing patients. Yet only few physicians and medical practices succeed due to their failure to effectively run social media programs. As a result, they leave their social media accounts either inactive or at the mercy of external medical marketing consultants.

Medical practices are also using social media to share general health information and interact with their patients.  The idea is to offer extended support to patients online.  Social media interactions have been limited to administrative patient support, and understandably so!

What Not To Do on Social Media?  

Using social media in a medical context is risky business. It is important that physicians and medical practices are aware of the risks associated with the usage of social media in healthcare. So, here are 5 things you should NOT do online-

1. Do Not Post Pictures of a Patient:

A Physician was expelled from his services in New York after he posted pictures of a patient on his personal social media account. In another case, a practice nurse posted a picture of a patient's skin rash and suffered a legal action.

2. Be Careful of Casual Pictures Taken in Medical Practice:

Sometimes you do not realize what is in the background of a picture. One nurse took a selfie in a hospital, posted it on her personal social media account, and unfortunately the picture had patient health information in the background which got her into trouble.

3. Social Media is Not Encrypted and is Not HIPAA Compliant:

Social media sites are usually not “encrypted” as per the HIPAA standards. This means patient information exchanged on the site is NOT considered PHI secure. Any disclosure of patient health information, even done privately, with the patient on social media is not adhering to HIPAA compliance and is a security breach. You should completely avoid patient health information exchanges on social media.

4. Do Not ‘Friend’ Your Patients on Social Media:

Findings show that patients extend online relationship with their physicians by sending them ‘friend’ requests on social media. Physicians should not try to connect personally with their patients online as this is simply a catalyst to the insecure exchange of PHI on social media. Moreover, medical organizational policies often discourage personal social media communication between physicians and patients.

5. Think Before Sharing Anonymous Patient Pictures on Social Media:

A medical physician was fined by the Rhode Island state board after making comments on social media about a patient. Even though the doctor did not mention the patient’s name in the post, enough information was shared on social media that allowed others to identify the patient. This act was declared unprofessional and the physician was heavily fined!

I hope you find the information in this post useful and apply our tips to your future patient communication via social media or secured and compliant channels. Do consider these guidelines for online healthcare posts before taking on the massive risks associated with social media.